- The Washington Times - Friday, August 7, 2009

UPDATED:

Florida Republican Sen. Mel Martinez plans to announce his resignation as soon as Friday afternoon, according to Republican officials familiar with the one-term senator’s plans.

Mr. Martinez, elected to the Senate five years ago, had announced in December that he would not be running for re-election in 2010 and he has already endorsed Republican Florida Gov. Charlie Crist in the race for his empty seat.

The public announcement is expected in Orlando at about 3 p.m. Friday, officials said.

Republican officials who knew of the resignation announcement said they were unsure of Mr. Martinez’s plans or if another job opportunity prompted the exit. However, Mr. Martinez’s decision a year ago not to seek re-election was chalked up to his desire for more free time and a less grueling work schedule.

In an e-mail to supporters early Friday, Mr. Martinez, a Catholic, said his decision was based on family considerations.

“My priorities have always been my faith, my family and my country and at this stage in my life, and after nearly twelve years of public service in Florida and Washington, it’s time I return to Florida and my family,” he said in the e-mail, which was posted on the Web site of the Orlando Sentinel.

“So today I am announcing my decision to step down from public office, effective on a successor taking office to fill out the remainder of my term.”

The early vacancy in the Senate should not affect the 2010 race. Mr. Crist, widely seen as the front-runner in the race, will be able to appoint a placeholder to fill the seat until next year’s election.

Mr. Crist is not expected to appoint himself, although Republican officials in Washington early Friday were exploring the legality of such a move.

Word of Mr. Martinez’s departure prompted a fond farewell from Florida’s senior senator.

“Mel has been a good Senate colleague of mine, as well as a personal friend,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Democrat. “He also has been a dedicated public servant for Florida. I look forward to our continued friendship and to having the same bipartisan working relationship with his successor.”

The Cuban-born Mr. Martinez, 62, has made a habit of stepping down unexpectedly. He quit as chairman of the Republican National Committee in 2007, saying he wanted to focus on his work in the Senate.

He was the first Latino to serve as chairman of a major political party in the United States and the first Cuban-American elected to the Senate. He also served as secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Developoment in the George W. Bush administration before his successful Senate run in 2004.

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